“Do you think we should tell the kids what really happened? What they don’t know won’t hurt them, right?”
Recently we received these questions when a parent accidentally ran over the sleeping, aging old family cat. What would you say if they asked you?
I’m wondering if you can help me with an immediate issue. Our dear friends have a 10 year old son & 8 year old daughter. They also had a 14 year old beloved cat until this morning – One of the parents accidentally ran over Ginger (she was sleeping under the car) this morning while leaving for work. The children were asleep so did not see any of this.
One parent thinks they should not ever tell the children that they ran over the cat, and that it died of natural causes. The other parent is conflicted about not being open, but also doesn’t want to lay this on the children. What would you recommend in this situation? As of now, the children know the cat died, but nothing about the accident.
When it comes to family rules, a common mistake parents make is not clearly defining the rules!
What is acceptable and what is not in a family can be a moving target depending on the whims of a parent’s mood, fatigue, or even their indigestion. One day shoes scattered in the entryway are ignored or simply kicked aside, and the next day it is a cardinal offense when a stressed parent trips over them. “You know better than to leave these here!” This inconsistency is a classic way that parents exasperate their children (See Ephesians 6:4).
“…he will turn the hearts of the parents to their children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous” Luke 1:17
What if the way you disciplined your kids had the power to turn their hearts toward or away from the safety of your love, your home, and even God? We think it does. Our conclusion comes from extensive work with kids since 1985.
When kids steal, disobey, defy, cheat, lash out, or otherwise sin, in their hearts, they leave. They leave the safety of trustworthy relationships. They leave the safety of boundaries and limits placed for their protection. They leave the purposes for which God created them. These are acts of rebellion. All kids do this. All humans do this.
The way we are treated when we sin determines whether or not we’ll feel safe to return to the protection of the relationships, the love, the boundaries, and the purposes of God for our lives. In our years working in youth groups with other people’s kids we sometimes learned this the hard way. Many of the unchurched kids we were hoping to reach would quit coming after they were caught doing something they shouldn’t do – and disciplined. Especially if the discipline was reactive or shaming, we could pretty much guarantee that unless a strong relationship of grace was in place, we’d never see those kids again.
Sometimes, in spite of parents’ most graceful efforts to stay calm, connect well, and parent with grace, their kids still misbehave. They are “beloved sinners” (just like us) and need corrective guidance (just like we do), with the goal of helping them learn the powerful message, “You are responsible for your life, your relationships, and your decisions.”
Two Biblical principles can help parents communicate this message to their children: natural impacts and imposed consequences.
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Subscribe: iTunes | Android | Over the next several weeks we’ll be sharing three types of consequences that make sense, are easy to implement, and most importantly will really help your children learn the value of making a better decision next time!
Natural impacts (aka Natural consequences)
Many impacts, or consequences, for misbehaviors like disrespect or irresponsibility occur naturally, without the intervention of an adult. We call these “natural impacts.”
For example, if a child has a messy room, she may not be able to find her shoes in the morning before school. If a child hits his brother, he may feel “icky” inside. If a child tells a lie, people won’t be as likely to trust him. By helping my children to understand and experience these natural impacts, I help them learn about the true causes and effects that will follow them into life beyond the walls of our home.
The worst punishment a parent can give is the impulsive, emotional and irrational consequence that the child eventually weasels out of because both parent and child know it’s unreasonable.
Dishing out a quick consequence may help you feel big and powerful at the moment, but it teaches your kids that your word can’t be trusted, therefore you can’t be trusted. A recent coaching client testified to this when she said, “I never thought about the impact of my empty threats on the trust level in my relationship with my child.”
So if you want your kids to trust you, it will help to be more thoughtful about consequences.
Try this process:
As parents who care for our children’s spiritual well-being, we try to teach them right and wrong and help them tackle whatever spiritual problems they encounter.
However, other than the fact that they’re born into sin, it may well be that a child’s biggest spiritual problem is that the grace they hear about in the gospel story is not what they experience in their closest relationships. The same parents who send them to Sunday School fight in the car on the way home from church and don’t resolve well. Or they yell at their kids impatiently. Or they complain openly about other people. Or they insist on being right. Or they discipline angrily and without grace. The list goes on.
We may think our kids won’t notice these behavioral contradictions, but increasingly they do notice and feel embittered (Col. 3:21) or exasperated (Eph. 6:4).
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s or child’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Matthew 7:3 (italic portion inserted by CF)”
When parents tell Lynne or me about their discipline struggles with their kids we often ask them, “What is your primary goal?” They almost always tell us that their goal is to get their child to either stop doing a wrong behavior, or to do the right behavior. Their fingers point at their kids. It turns out that this is often the problem when parents discipline their children.